Inspiration: Vintage Parisian Photos


I have Paris on the brain.  Not the excited, oh my goodness, I can’t wait to get there kind of thinking:  I have anxiety.  I am leaving in a few weeks for the City of Lights and I haven’t planned a single activity or meal.

This morning, I sat down at the computer and was determined to find the best bistro in walking distance from our Parisian apartment.  Instead, I have spent the last two hours surfing the web, staring at art and photography of Paris Streetscapes.

I may not have found a bistro, but I did find some real gems I wanted to pass along to you!

Here is how the morning started:

“Ok, Jennifer, focus.  You need to find the best bistro near your apartment.  Which arrondissement is the apartment in again? You should look through your email and find the one the landlord sent with the address…but first, why don’t you just look at your favorite paintings of Paris to inspire you?  Good plan.”

Two of my all time favorite paintings are Caillebotte’s Paris Street: Rainy Day (1877) and Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte (1884).




I dream about these paintings.  I can stare at them all day long…even on a computer screen.  And this morning, I did exactly that and then I remembered I am supposed to hunting for the best bistro.

Staring at my two favorite paintings – on a computer screen: 20 minutes

But before I start the bistro hunt,  I need to check the dates on Met exhibit displaying photography in Paris from the 1800’s.  Maybe I can see the exhibit before I leave?

The Charles Merville: Photographer of Paris is on display until May 4th.  The exhibit is around 100 of his photographs. Must get to Met next week.


Rue Vieille-Notre-Dame, vue prise de la rue du Pont-aux-biches, 5Ëme arrondissement, Paris



Time spent on the Met site looking at the Merville exhibit thumbnails: 45 minutes.  Roughly the same amount of time it would have taken to get on the subway and go see the actual photographs.  Ugh. 

As I am staring at the Merville photos, I think,

“Wouldn’t it be cool to note the intersections and streetscapes from Merville’s photos and revisit those locations during my trip?  Wait…the Pledgebrother told me about a French photographer who was doing exactly that!  Where the heck is that link?”

You can visit the project here and the slider allows you to smoothly view the 1914 and the 2011 images.  I entertained myself for a half an hour playing ‘I spy’ with these photos.

In the 1914 photo below, you see the pharmacy at  the bottom left corner of the arch?  Then check out the 2011 photo – the pharmacy is still a pharmacy!  Cool project.






time spent searching for link of Old and New photography project: 10 minutes

playing “I Spy” with the photo project: 30 minutes

Still haven’t found the bistro yet, but I am having such a ball – I mean, why look for a specific bistro when there is a bistro on every corner?  Why not look for more great historical photos of Paris?  So, that is what I did.

While searching for old and new photos of Paris, I found a Time & Life photo essay about fashion in the 1940’s.

Photographed in Paris in Fall of 1944 (almost immediately following the liberation of Paris), the story was covering the attempt to bring back the fashion industry after the war.


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Love this quote from the story:

“Sales were disappointing . . . [but] another damper was the lack of good fur and real wool. French ingenuity did its best. Rabbits became everything up to ermine and chinchilla. But Parisians faced a cold winter without much coal. Said [one correspondent]: “If some enterprising couturier could acquire an unlimited supply of wool, the most popular collection would be one showing woolen underwear.”

Read the article at: Fashion in Post-War Paris: Black Lace and Woolen Undies |

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Wow.  I love the fashion and how the “props” are so telling of the timing of the shows.

time spent thinking about Paris in the 1940’s, rebuilding after the war, and the birth of street style photography: 30 minutes

Which reminded me of when the Husband and I were lucky enough to be in Paris in the fall ’08 and we happened to tour Notre Dame on Armistice Day.  A special ceremony was being held and we quietly observed from the aisles outside the nave.

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The cathedral was full of all ages and I was extremely touched that the members of the Allied Forces were represented during the ceremony.  As I have written about before, Veterans hold a very special place in my heart.

Sometimes, I feel a little lonely in remembering the sacrifices that have come before me.  That day was a beautiful reminder that halfway around the world, others felt the same gratitude.  I feel so lucky that we arrived at Notre Dame in time to witness the remembrance ceremony.

notre dame


Time spent remembering that beautiful day, thinking about sacrifice, and how small our world is: worth every minute

Remembering that day made me wonder what is happening in Paris when we are returning this spring…in fact, what is happening in Paris right now?

So, I found Paris Daily Photo.  Photographer Eric Tenin posts a photo a day – the exciting to the mundane.  I love this photo of Bagatelle Park, which will be open during our visit.


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And then I saw this picture that Eric took last week of civilians and military walking toward the Champs Elysées.  He asked his readers what was the occasion.

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One commenter suggested that it was for a Victory Day celebration and then corrected himself.  Victory Day is May 8th – during our trip!  Sure some shops may be closed, but instead of stumbling into the ceremony at Notre Dame, we can make plans to attend!

Total time surfing Parisian art and photos: ~2 hours

Number of bistros discovered: 0

Number of activities planned: 2 (the Bagatelle Park and Victory Day ceremony)

At this rate, if I am going to have an itinerary, I am going to need to reschedule the trip for 2018.

So, I am ditching the itinerary and plan on eating too much cheese, drinking great wine and simply relaxing in Paris.  Now I need to start packing because that won’t take me any time at all, right?